The little black circle on the cover claiming "50 Great Hits" is exaggerating a little. Only a couple of the songs on this disc got much radio play in my memory. But hits or not, there are 50 tracks included on Rhino Records' reissue of Elvis Costello and the Attractions' 1980 Get Happy!! album.
The astute will realize that in 1980, even on a double album, you couldn't fit 50 songs. This reissued album package includes the frantic-paced original 20 songs (few are much more than two minutes long), and then offers a second bonus CD that includes 30 additional cuts from the Get Happy!! recording sessions, comprised largely of alternate takes and demo versions of the final album tracks (which often are just recordings of Costello singing with a guitar into a tape machine).
Produced by Nick Lowe, Get Happy!! found Costello looking to classic R&B for inspiration, broadening the frantic ska guitar and rollerrink organ of his early New Wave arrangements. Hits included are "Opportunity" and "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down."
Rhino also has released Costello and the Attractions' subsequent albums, 1981's Trust and 1983's Punch the Clock, the latter of which included some of the best songs Costello would cut with The Attractions – "Let Them All Talk," "Everyday I Write the Book," "The Greatest Thing," "Shipbuilding" (later covered to good effect by Tasmin Archer) and more.
Both Trust and Punch the Clock also include bonus discs that have more songs than the original albums, largely made up of alternate version and demo versions of the songs that eventually made the albums, but also including B-sides and other material recorded during the period of the album in question.
Blackbird on a Lonely Wire
Will Hoge strips it all back to the core — his songs draw from the heart of country-influenced rock 'n' roll. His latest release, Blackbird on a Lonely Wire, is colored by jangling guitars, pounding drums and rattling tambourines, and is rife with songs about personal challenge ("King of Grey"), empathic character studies ("Be the One") and hope for new love ("Hey Tonight.") Hoge and his band hail from Nashville, and recently played a perfectly paired roots-rock double bill with Edwin McCain in Chicago. Both artists tap into the same solid songcraft that once propelled Jude Cole to the top of the charts.
Blackbird on a Lonely Wire is Hoge's second album, but his first produced exclusively for Atlantic. A couple of years ago, Hoge's blisteringly emotional songcraft caught the ears of the major label, which reissued Carousel, an album Hoge had originally released on his own.
Blackbird cashes in on the promise of that first album, melding the singer's slightly end-of-the-long-night rough vocals with soulful, roots rock melodies that never fail to set the feet tapping and the heart sympathizing, as he sings of dealing with a "Secondhand Heart," and in one of his strongest, most heartache-filled lyrics, of a former flame who is now "Someone Else's Baby":
"I see you when I walk down the street
your smile's in the face of everyone I meet
oh and it tears me to know that he's touching you
and learning all the secrets that I once knew."
While much of this CD moves in a Tom Petty-meets-Jude Cole-meets Counting Crows mix of pop-ready hooks and countrified twang, toward the end of the disc Hoge and his band crank up the amplifiers for a couple of rippin' three-chord jams.
In "Better Off Now," he pulls out a classic Byrds chime to open a warm harmonied, bittersweet radio rocker, and in "All Night Long" he gives punk rockers The Donnas a run for their overdriven-guitar money in a furious riff-fest as he sings of Katie, who's "got a new dress she wears too tight... she doesn't care what they say's right or wrong/she's gonna stay out all night long."
It closes with a delicately picked lyrical ballad, "Baby Girl," where Michelle Branch offers sweetly understated background vocals as Hoge channels the soothing style of Blessid Union of Souls crooning verses of hope:
"And I hope your friends are many
and your laughter's always loud
to help you when you're lonely
and pick you up when you're down."
This is the work of a solid songwriter on the rise.